Australian nationalism is a riddle. While 1 January 1901 serves as a neat starting point for an etiological myth, the historical record is clear, Federation was a celebration of Britishness. It did not mark Australia’s emotional separation from Britishness but elevation to dominion status. The dual patriotism was effortless and Australians saw no contradiction in defining themselves as ‘better Britons’.
So when did the nationalistic velvet divorce take place?
Historians and social theorists have looked to the past to find a unique ‘Australian legend’. The Anti-Transportation League, campaigns for responsible government, Eureka Stockade, the Anzac myth, Gallipoli, and Curtin’s Look to America speech, have been seen as links in the long chain of Australian national theory. As Neville Meaney warns however, the best these episodes can offer is a history of ‘thwarted nationalism’. Was there a post-war Australian awakening? Do the Whitlamite 70s or the republican 90s reveal an Australian moment? Or does the rise of Hansonism suggest that Britishness has survived these nationalist moments and still retains currency as a cultural identifier? When did Australia discover its Australianness?
Benjamin T. Jones is a DECRA Fellow in the School of History at the Australian National University. He is currently working on an ARC project titled Aristotle’s Australia that traces the civic republican tradition in the twentieth century. His books include Atheism for Christians (2016), Republicanism and Responsible Government (2014), and Project Republic (2013).
His next book is titled This Time: Australia’s Republican Past and Future and will be released on Australia Day 2018 through Black Inc.
He is also editing a book titled Elections Matter … Even when you think they don’t to be published next year through Monash University Press.